Physics and anti-racism
Reading "The Hidden Roots of White Supremacy: And the Path to a Shared American Future" by Robert P. Jones (Simon & Schuster, 2023) and RCL Advent 3B.
In Chaos Theory, the first property of a system is “sensitivity to initial conditions.” The tiniest change in the initial condition of a system will cause a new and unpredictable chain of events. It is often called “the butterfly effect.” It’s a good image for the hope I feel after reading Jones’ book.
Jones studied three different communities each of which had a history of racial violence. Each community wanted to work towards racial healing.
He saw three phases common to their journeys. In each of the three phases, ordinary individuals took on projects which were modest and local. Someone did research. Someone got a highway renamed for a lynching victim. Someone took the time to say “I’m sorry” in a personal and believable way.
Any number of people were at work in each of the three phases, carrying forward a project that made sense to them. Even if the project was not successful in the way they had planned it, the effort itself changed things giving rise to new and unpredictable chains of events. It happened over and over again in the three featured communities. 
We can never say that we’re not doing anti-racism work because the problem is too big and our efforts would be too small. Physics says otherwise. The tiniest change in the initial condition of a system will cause a new and unpredictable chain of events. And we are all a part of the system.
In this Sunday’s gospel: John the Baptist was doing what made sense to him — baptizing people with water outside the city walls. A modest, local and somewhat odd little project. He wasn’t claiming to be “the Messiah, or Elijah or the prophet.” Whether things happened the way John had planned them or not is unclear. But things happened. Things changed.
All of which is to say that in anti-racism work as in physics, small things matter. The things we do and don’t do. The things we say and don’t say. They matter. They affect other people and other things which in turn affect other people and other things, in unpredictable ways.
Best wishes to you and yours for happy, healthy and safe holidays. I am taking two weeks off and will see you again (if we’re spared) on January 5, 2024.
 The Mississippi Delta, where Emmett Till was kidnapped and murdered in 1955, Duluth, Minnesota where three black men were lynched by a white mob in 1920, and Tulsa, Oklahoma where the black neighborhood of Greenwood was attacked by a white militarized mob killing as many as 300 people and burning down 1,250 homes and businesses in 1921.
 The three phases are Truth-telling, Commemoration and Repair. They follow long periods of silence. Immediately after the racial violence – the riot, lynching or murder -- no one talks about what happened. Over time memories fade and eye-witnesses die. In some cases, official records are destroyed. There were thirty years of silence in Mississippi. Fifty years of silence in Duluth followed by another twenty years. There were fifty years of silence in Tulsa.
 Most of the book reviews I read seemed uninterested in the stories Jones tells about the people who played a part in the project of racial healing. Reviewers were more interested in his explanation of the connection between the Doctrine of Discovery and the doctrine of white supremacy. It is an important connection. Thanks to the Episcopal Church’s Sacred Ground program, I already knew something about the Doctrine of Discovery. That helped me see Jones’ argument quickly and move on to what I think were more important aspects of the book — the stories about ordinary people who changed things! As I said last week, I think the book is brilliant.